This week, I have returned to the southern hemisphere for some fascinating events in Peru and Argentina. In Lima last Thursday (November 14), I gave an in-company seminar for 50 managers at Visa, on how to use personal storytelling in management. It was a great crowd, and we had a lot of fun along with the learning.
Then, on Friday, I did one of my full-day conferences that have become frequent events in Latin America, on developing leadership potential in oneself and in others. It was organized by my Uruguayan friends, the Alta Gerencia group.
On Saturday, I arrived in Buenos Aires. I must admit that the voyage from Europe through Peru and on to Argentina—along with all the activity and little “down time”—was quite tiring, and it took a few days to recover. But, I am happy to be spending a week in of my favorite cities at one of the best times to be here.
In November, Buenos Aires is warm, and the oppressive heat that we know will come in December and January still seems far off. Days are relatively long, nights are cool, and the streets are full of activity. The jacaranda—one of the world’s truly magnificent trees—is in full bloom, covering the city in purple bell-shaped flowers. For me, the spring-like atmosphere and the warm weather have been a refreshing change from the cold and wet of the past weeks in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
This week, the municipality of Buenos Aires has organized a wide range of activities for “the week of the entrepreneur”. I have been asked to speak about my experience coaching and working with entrepreneurs.
In addition, I on Wednesday, I was invited to the city’s main event, as part of a panel discussion on the topic of how to be a “global entrepreneur”. My interpretation of this term is far more than geographic. For me, one of the fundamental points to make was that one of the great challenges for young entrepreneurs is learning to see a bigger picture and to see how their business concepts fit into a larger context.
One of the questions they asked me to speak about was a predictable one: Why should entrepreneurs be interested in storytelling? Of course, this is something I feel very strongly about. Simply put, in my opinion, every entrepreneur must learn the art of telling a good story.
I asked the audience to think about it for a minute. When you have an idea for a new business, at the very beginning, all you have is your story. You do not have a functioning business or a concrete activity to show the world of potential clients or investors. In most cases, the product or service does not yet exist. Your story is a dream, nothing more than a future possibility. And, if your tale does not create a striking image in the mind of the listener, if it is not authentic and credible, and if the assumptions of your dream are not grounded in reality, you will probably never get anything off the ground.
At the same time, storytelling for the entrepreneur is often a tricky activity. One must stimulate a dream in the mind of the listener, but the dream must be a pragmatic one.
The moderator of our panel discussion, a well-known professor from IAE (one of Latin America’s truly fine schools of management), also asked me about the leadership issues I see for young entrepreneurs. Of course, this has been a major theme in my work of the past fifteen years, particularly in my seminars for Venture Leaders program at the Swiss Consulate in Boston.
To me, part of the issue for entrepreneurs as they begin to lead their young organizations is the perception that there is an entrepreneurial personality and an executive personality, and that the two profiles are vastly different. I do not agree with this point of view. After working with entrepreneurs in a variety of industries (high-tech, beverages, and humanitarian projects) as they began to build and lead teams, I am convinced that entrepreneurs can learn to be leaders.
Nonetheless, it is true that the skills, traits and behaviors that make entrepreneurs successful can undermine their ability to run a growing enterprise. As such, with the entrepreneurs I coach, one of the challenges is encouraging them to pay attention to leadership development, early in their start-up or growth phases.
While often frustrating because of an entrepreneur’s busy schedule and intense focus on urgent action, this type of work has been a source of great enjoyment and satisfaction for me.